Panic Attacks: I Can’t Go Out Alone

Reader’s Question

Something very strange started happening to me about 2 years ago. I couldn’t and still can’t go out alone. Whenever I am trying to walk or go out alone, I start feeling dizziness, I feel panic. Sometimes it is because of my low blood pressure, but I think most of the times it is mainly psychological, because as soon as I am with somebody else (especially holding my hand) I am not having the same feelings. Let’s say I am in the supermarket with my husband and he asks me to go and get something we forgot while he is in the queue. By the time I get there and try to get that thing, I try to either sit down and/or get hold of something at least 5 times. Lately, I have been diagnosed with “Panic Attacks“. Is it right to say that my “not being able to go out alone” problem is part of that Panic Attack? Is it possible to cure, since in 2 years it has gone deeper and deeper?

Thank you in advance for your time.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your small email contains many issues. First, something happened about two years ago that traumatized you and it probably happened while you were away from home. While we normally think of an assault, a humiliation, a physical/medical problem, or emotional trauma — other things might have prompted a severe reaction such as medication problem, threat, or even embarrassment. Once this happens, you develop an Emotional Memory (see article on this website). You memorize the traumatic event plus the feelings/reactions associated with the event. Once you have the Emotional Memory (EM), each time you try to go out you experience that same panic feeling.

Clinically, this is called Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. The intense physical symptoms (the panic attack) become so frightening that you now fear being away from the home (agoraphobia). Because it’s based in Emotional Memory, just thinking about going out starts your chest pounding, dizziness, feelings of unreality, etc.

There are several treatments for this problem. First, read my article on Emotional Memory as well as articles on anxiety and panic on this website. Educate yourself about what has happened to you. You can also find information by looking up “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” which works in a similar fashion. Second, I would seek anxiety and panic treatment from a psychiatrist. He/She will typically use a long-acting antianxiety medication to keep the Emotional Memory from rapidly surfacing. Third, I would seek counseling for your panic/anxiety attacks and agoraphobia. Lastly, I would start practicing being out of the home alone. Make a list of gradual out-of-home excursions ranging from low-stress to high stress. Example:

  1. walking around the house/apartment outside,
  2. walking down the street and back,
  3. driving around the block,
  4. driving to a local business, etc.

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Begin practicing these out-of-home trips — beginning at the least stressful. The goal is to gradually increase your time and comfort out of the home.

Your situation can be cured. While it’s very difficult for you, it’s a common mental health experience. People who experience a physical threat, medical crisis, natural disaster, etc. while away from home often develop your situation. Your goal now is to recover and return to life.

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